Bemus Point Stow Ferry to begin operation

By DANIEL SWANSON

Special to the OBSERVER

BEMUS POINT – The Bemus Point-Stow ferry is beginning its operating season with a bang again this year.

A fireworks display, hosted by the ferry and the Village Casino, is scheduled for around 9:30 p.m. on Sunday.

The fireworks will be shot from the ferry and can be seen from the shoreline near the Village Casino.

John Cheney, director of vessels, will once again be front and center – his first ferry ride being 84 years ago.

“It’s the way people got back and forth across the lake to save traveling 28 miles,” Cheney said.

Unfortunately, the ferry has been affected by recent flooding and rising lake levels.

According to Cheney, the lake is 3 to 4 inches too high, and has made it impossible for vehicles to board from the Bemus side of the lake.

“I don’t think (lake levels) have been this bad since 1972 after Hurricane Agnes,” Cheney said.

Ferry rides, which were supposed to commence Friday, have been postponed indefinitely until lake levels subside.

“There are (also) limbs, dock posts and dispersed beaver dams that have collected on the ferry’s cables,” Cheney said.

Efforts to clear this debris from the cables are currently underway and should be completed by today.

According to Cheney, the ferry will be hosting rides for area school children in June. He also said that the ferry often transports bicyclists across the lake, and even transported 35 motorcyclists from Ontario, Canada, last year.

“Come meet friends on the ferry and have a good time,” Cheney said. “There are so many people that come on board and say, ‘I rode this when I was a kid,’ who take their children and grandchildren to ride. It’s very rewarding.”

Cheney said that the ferry is the only ferry east of the Mississippi River that still operates on cables.

“This is all maintained by volunteer help,” Cheney said. “We couldn’t do it without their help.”

Cheney gave a special thanks to Duane Buchweitz, Gifford Lawrence, Fred Croscut, Jim Turney, John Weise, Doug Hay, the Chautauqua Lake Association and others for their assistance.

The Bemus Point-Stow Ferry began its annual summer operation Friday. The ferry provides historic crossings in the narrows of Chautauqua Lake between Bemus Point and Stow. It operates on steel cables powered by a diesel engine. In 1811, Thomas Bemus operated a raft rowed across the narrows, which was replaced in 1815 by a rope and pulley system.

In 1887, steel cables were installed and in 1902 a naphtha-fired steam engine was added. In 1928, an 80-foot, 60-ton steel hull was built and is still operating. In 1943, Chautauqua County took possession of the ferry as part of the highway system.

The ferry currently operates by dedicated volunteers under the direction of the Sea Lion Project, who took possession of the vessel in 1982.

It operates weekends and holidays from May to September, weather permitting. Special charters are available upon request by contacting John and Betty Lou Cheney at 386-3065.

A fireworks display has opened the ferry’s operating season for more than 10 years.